Tuesday, 7 August 2007
Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Bill 2007; Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007; Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Other Measures) Bill 2007; Appropriation (Northern Territory National Emergency Response) Bill (No. 1) 2007-2008; Appropriation (Northern Territory National Emergency Response) Bill (No. 2) 2007-2008
That is fair enough. Whilst trying to get bipartisan support, there has been that political overtone that the government somehow was trying to give you detail late or not give it to you. I can assure you that we have given it to you at the earliest opportunity that it was available all the way through, including the explanatory memorandum, the appropriation bills. The amendments, which I have been asked by the opposition to consider seriously tonight, I received 15 minutes before coming into the chamber. I have taken advice and will discuss those, once you have had something to say about them.
Some issues were raised by the opposition about communications, and the best communications on issues like this are face to face. We have now visited all 73 communities and explained to them what the intervention is about and, as I said earlier on today, more than half of those communities have now had the assessment done, with more detailed information. We all know—and I know the member for Jagajaga travelled to Hermannsberg and knows only too well—that some people deliberately misinformed for their own purposes. I am not suggesting you; I am not suggesting that at all if you think that was the inference. But there were people there, we have that information, we know what they did and we know why. Some of those people are actually paid, employed, to work in and assist these communities. You ask yourself: what could their motivation be to spread rumours to people that their children were going to be taken away by the military or their dogs were going to be shot when they knew that was without basis?
With respect to the other issue of communications and working closely together, this will be the first time that many of these communities have actually had a federal government officer on the ground that they can interact with one on one—who does not fly in and out or drop in for the day but is living there. That one-on-one location will make an enormous difference to people. It will also ensure that the money is properly spent. It will ensure that gatekeepers who, unfortunately, in too many communities do not get that opportunity, do so.
The accusation that this is top down and not based on consultation could not be further from the truth. The genesis of this legislation has come from comment and consultation, if you want to call it that. However, it has been about me talking to people one on one. It was from community consultation in Kalumburu, Western Australia—well before this latest break-out of charges, where 15 of the population of 90 males in that community were charged for child sex offences and similar activities—that I was told that virtually nobody in the community could work in a voluntary capacity in the school because they could not get the appropriate passes and, in addition, that the community had a huge problem with cash: ‘What can you do to reduce the amount of cash in the community?’ I linked the two. In the same way, people in Wadeye told me that they had problems with people using the cash for drugs and grog and also told me: ‘Treat us like whitefellas and not like separate citizens. If our kids don’t go to school, let there be a cause and effect. Let’s have police here so that, when crimes are committed, things are dealt with.’ All of these things came from those community consultations that I have had over 18 months; that is where these things got their expression. So the accusation that we have not consulted could not be further from the truth. We have consulted over and over again. To do more would be to delay and, in doing so, more children would be hurt. That is just a statement of unfortunate fact.
These are momentous bills. They now need not just the commitment but also the will of many workers on the ground, whose efforts we must applaud. Many of them are away from their families—the police, the managers in these communities, other departmental officials, volunteers—but they want to see a better future. We should not forget them in this exercise of trying to protect the children of the First Australians. That has to be first and foremost in our minds at all times. I thank all members for their contributions to the debate. I question the commitment some of those indicated to these particular measures. I do not dispute their motivation of wanting to prevent child abuse in any way, shape or form, but I certainly did not detect the genuine support that would be necessary for these measures to be ongoing should there be a change of government. I commend the bill to the House.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Ms Macklin’s amendment) stand part of the question.